The emotional and financial costs of caregiving have been a central theme in Morning Edition's special series called "Family Matters: The Money Squeeze." It profiles three families struggling with the complexities of living in multigenerational households and facing difficult financial decisions: how to afford care for an elderly relative while paying for college and saving for retirement.
"There's all these life milestones that we go through and caregiving is one of them. Yet it's often overlooked," says Denise Brown, who runs Caregiving.com, a online community for caregivers.
According to AARP, nearly 44 million Americans are taking care of an older family member at any given time. And, as the nation's baby boomers age, this number will only increase. In fact, as the population ages, the average worker will be a caregiver, according to Cheryl Matheis, senior vice president for policy at AARP. She recently spoke with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep.
Currently, the average caregiver is female, 49 years old and working, and she spends roughly 20 hours a week on caregiving duties. And, the impact on the caregiver's life can be significant.
"[Caregivers] lose on average $325,000 in lifetime income in lost wages, lost social security, and lost pensions," Matheis says.
The National Alliance for Caregiving found nearly 70 percent of working caregivers reduced their work hours, took a leave of absence or chose early retirement due to their caregiving duties. According to a Pfizer-ReACT/Gallup poll, when caregivers did come to work, they were less productive than non-caregivers.
Many of our listeners wrote in about their own caregiving experiences.
Melissa Fitzpatrick wrote: "Thank you so much for this series! It really speaks to me. My mother-in-law, who has moderate dementia, moved in with us 1 1/2 years ago (shortly after I went through a particularly harrowing caregiving stint with my own mother when she was going through chemotherapy). Trying to figure out how to provide my mother-in-law with the care she needs, while also balancing taking care of my kindergartner and working has been tough."
Rebecca Hansbrough wrote: "These individuals family profiles strike a cautionary tale, not just for the senior members but for the middle aged children as well. One of the little spoken and ugly secrets is the fact that many of us will require long term care at some point in our lives and Medicaid won't cut it... I applaud these families for their ability to adjust in order to provide their loved ones with a caring and supportive environment."
Hank Scott wrote: "For me, it is a joy and a form of self reward to care for my elders, see to it there is a roof over their heads, food in the [fridge]. All the things they did for me as a young one. I have to admit without some aid from the government in the form of Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare, it would be almost impossible for me. So I not only appreciate the safety net, but willingly participate in it. The only sad part is the cost of all things has risen so much it makes it harder every year."
Ginger Hilgenberg wrote: "I am a caregiver for my mom who is 92 and still lives on her own. When she was in her seventies, she cared for her aunt... Now it is my turn to help, but it is very difficult some days. I am 52 and have one son in college, one still in high school. My husband is supporting us all as I am a stay-at-home mom. It's all about family, not politics, or money. Do the best with what you have. Isn't that what our mothers taught us as children?"
Read some earlier responses from readers here.
Morning Edition will continue its "Family Matters" series over the next few weeks, and we want to keep hearing from you. Do you live in a multigenerational household? Share your candid photos and stories with us on Tumblr or #nprfamilymatters on Twitter and Instagram.
(Jess Gitner is a production assistant for Morning Edition.)